Colleen Sharkey | July 17, 2020
The coronavirus forced billions of people worldwide to shelter at home and it is still affecting how people navigate the outside world. To get a clearer picture of people’s mobility in the U.S. during the lockdown period, William Evans and Christopher Cronin, economics researchers at the University of Notre Dame, gathered and analyzed all U.S. coronavirus-related state and local orders (e.g., public school closings, stay-at-home orders, etc.) and compared them with geolocation data collected across 40 million cellular devices that have opted-in to location sharing services. In their study, now available as a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, the researchers demonstrate that self-regulation was the primary factor in the mobility slowdown under the lockdown.
“State and local restrictions on mobility have been the chief regulatory intervention designed to reduce the spread of the disease. They have also been the focal point of anger for a lot of individuals who have been penalized by the recession,” said Cronin, assistant professor of economics. Despite the focus on these stay-at-home orders, Cronin noted, "The decline in foot traffic experienced in many industries during the early months of the pandemic was driven mainly by precautionary behavior on the part of individuals and employers rather than a response to state and local orders restricting mobility."
The pair found that foot traffic measured at the national level in a diverse set of industries started to drop in a short period from March 8-14, well before any state or local restrictions were in place. The break in activity the week prior to March 15 is not surprising. A variety of sources provided businesses and individuals with signals that they expected consequences of the virus would be severe. In the span of a few days, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus a pandemic, the NBA and the NHL stopped their seasons, the Premier League was suspended and federal government instituted the foreign travel ban.
The drops in foot traffic are dramatic. From the seven-day period ending March 13 through the minimums of seven-day moving averages, declines in foot traffic range from 39 percent in essential retail to 76 percent in hotels.
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